The First Bikini
July 5, 1946
The bikini was introduced on July 5, 1946, at a swimming pool in Paris, France. Created by French designer Louis Réard, the string two-piece swimsuit — made from only 30 inches of fabric with a newspaper print pattern — was an expression of freedom, and controversial from the start. Though one newspaper declared it “four triangles of nothing,” Réard was undeterred. When he could not find an established model to wear it for the photo shoot, he hired an exotic dancer who had little issue showing off her belly button.
The name “bikini” was also a bit cheeky. The mid-1940s were the atomic age, and beautiful women were sometimes referred to as “bombshells” and “atomic.” Several days before the swimsuit reveal, the U.S. had begun testing nuclear weapons near a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean called the Bikini Atoll. Being a master marketer, Réard named his new bathing outfit after this explosive state of affairs. After its reveal, the Vatican declared the swimwear a sin, and even in the U.S. the bikini didn’t catch on until 1960 due its revealing nature. But Réard truly thought he was putting something good into a world still reeling from World War II. Later in life, he told a reporter he had wanted to design something that showed “life can start over and be beautiful.”